Voluntary COVID-19 testing begins at Halifax Stanfield International Airport

Airline travellers arriving at Nova Scotia’s Halifax Stanfield International Airport now have the option to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival.

Beginning Tuesday, anyone entering Nova Scotia via the airport will be provided a self-swab kit, along with instructions for use. Public health will also be on site from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day to swab anyone who needs help.

"Flights that come in outside of those time periods, passengers are given a take home swabbing kit and then they are able to drop that kit off at any of our primary assessment centres across the province and that will be sent into the lab," said Cynthia Stockman, director of the Nova Scotia Health Authority's COVID-19 response team.

Although the tests aren't mandatory, officials have said the testing measure is a way to quickly identify and respond to cases.

"We do feel like it makes it so much more convenient for those travellers that are entering the province by air to be able to get their test right here at the airport when they arrive," said Tiffany Chase, a spokesperson for the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

The self-swab kit is a PCR test - a lab-based test similar to the one used at primary assessment centres. People will receive results by phone or email within 72 hours of dropping it off.

"It's still a standard PCR test that we're doing for patients. It's just that we're getting them to do the test themselves rather than us administering the test," said Stockman.

Travellers say they are happy to see testing on site.  

"I think personally, the more testing we can do the better," said traveller Brad Langille. "I think it's well overdue and anything that we can do to get life back to normal is, I'm all for that."

"I feel like it could have been at the airport sooner but you know, obviously nothing really goes smoothly when it's built on the fly," said Scott Smith, a traveller. "So, I think they're doing the best they can."

Health officials say even if travellers’ tests come back negative, they still need to complete the required period of isolation.

PC Leader Tim Houston says he is happy to see testing in airports, but believes the province could be doing more to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

"I think that the move to start testing is the right move. The decision to make it voluntary is the wrong move," explained Houston. "We need mandatory testing at the airport, it's essential to keep Nova Scotians safe and if we would have had mandatory testing at the airport, we likely could have prevented this third wave."

Health officials in Nova Scotia say they are relying on the mandatory 14-day isolation for people who travel into the province.

For that reason, testing is still strongly recommended for most travellers, but is only mandatory for people like specialized workers and rotational workers.

CHANGES FOR ROTATIONAL WORKERS TAKE EFFECT

Changes for Nova Scotia rotational workers also came into effect Tuesday. Rotational workers who have no COVID-19 symptoms and who have been fully vaccinated at least two weeks before arriving in the province will no longer need to self-isolate, although they must get tested three times within a two-week period.

Meanwhile, health officials say people in the province who received their first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on or before April 21 will now be able to reschedule their second dose appointment before June 30.

Although the vaccine is being offered, the province's chief medical officer of health is recommending people get a second dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines instead. Dr. Robert Strang has said his advice is based on a recent "small study" that indicates those vaccines provide a better immune response than two doses of AstraZeneca.

Nova Scotia has about 2,000 doses of AstraZeneca that are set to expire at the end of the month. The province has said about 58,000 Nova Scotians have received a first dose of AstraZeneca.

With files from The Canadian Press.